Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer


15 Oct. 1535ROBERT SOUTHWELL vice Bewcher9
31 Jan. 1549GEORGE AMYAS vice OVEREND15
1553 (Oct.)JOHN WALPOLE 16
30 Sept. 1558WILLIAM YELVERTON vice GILBERD deceased

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The town of Bishop’s Lynn had been founded in the late 11th century by the bishop of Norwich at the suit of traders settled on the western border of his manor of Gaywood. In 1204 Bishop John de Gray gave the town a charter by which its burgesses were to enjoy the same liberties and privileges as those of residents of Oxford. This charter was repeatedly confirmed by the crown down to 1510, with a saving clause for the bishop’s rights as lord of the manor, but thereafter the town contested these rights and in June 1524 a charter incorporated it as the mayor, aldermen and community, and named Thomas Miller the first mayor. The council of the Twenty-Four, sometimes known as jurats, was replaced by one of 12 aldermen and the common council was reduced from about 30 to 18. The governing body was assisted by a town clerk, a recorder and several lesser officers. Although it resolved certain issues between the town and its episcopal lord, the new charter did little to relieve the friction between them, which continued until in 1536 the crown exchanged the lands of St. Benet’s Holme for those of the bishopric. In 1537 the King leased the manorial courts to the corporation for 20 marks a year and authorized the town to call itself King’s Lynn. Cromwell was asked to intervene in problems arising from the intransigence of the bishop’s ex-steward and other servants, but the settlement of 1537 remained in force and in 1557 it was confirmed by Mary. In 1544 the King granted the manor of Gaywood to the 3rd Duke of Norfolk: three years later the manor escheated to the crown on the duke’s attainder but it was restored to him and his family at the beginning of Mary’s reign. The town granted annuities to the Duke of Suffolk in 1537, to Sir John Dudley, Earl of Warwick, in 1550 and (Sir) Richard Southwell in 1553, but it does not seem to have appointed a high steward until 1572. Municipal records survive for the period.17

Elections were held in the guildhall. Until 1523 the Members were chosen by an indirect method. The mayor named two of the jurats and two common councilmen, who chose two more from each body; these eight similarly co-opted four more; and the resulting 12 elected the two Members. In March 1523 the mayor and 22 of the governing body acted as electors and, although the record of the 1529 election is missing from the town books, later reports and such official returns as survive between that date and 1558 almost invariably speak of election by the ‘mayor, aldermen and common council’ or by the whole assent of the ‘house’ or ‘congregation’. Until 1536 the bishop had the right to return writs, but it was the sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk who throughout the early 16th century notified Chancery of the names of those elected. The returns between 1542 and 1547 are in the form of an indenture between the sheriff and mayor and about 20 named electors, but during the 1550s this was replaced by a deed recording that the mayor and burgesses had elected two Members.18

In 1510 two townsmen, Robert Gerves and Thomas Wythe, were elected but when both refused to sit they were replaced by Thomas Gibbon and Francis Monford. On two other occasions the townsmen’s choice was changed after the election: in 1545 William Yelverton was replaced by Thomas Miller, and in January 1553 Thomas Waters by John Walpole. In 1515, 1536 and November 1554 Lynn did not comply fully with royal recommendations for the return of the previous Members or of residents, but in electing Robert Soome instead of Francis Monford in 1515, William Coningsby instead of Thomas Miller in 1536, and Sir Thomas Moyle in 1554 it was perhaps attempting to compromise between conflicting demands. Three of its Members were replaced while Parliament was in session, Richard Bewcher being superseded by Robert Southwell in 1535 William Overend by George Amyas in 1549 and Ambrose Gilberd by William Yelverton in 1558. Gilberd’s death during the prorogation led to Yelverton’s by-election, but in 1535 and 1549 both Bewcher and Overend seem to have been in good health. Overend had displeased the government by his outspokenness in the House, and although Bewcher is not known to have given any offence his withdrawal was perhaps intended to gratify the King and Cromwell. Lynn was amenable to influence: thus it three times returned Cromwell’s protégé Southwell and in 1555 it elected the 4th Duke of Norfolk’s servant Sir Nicholas Lestrange. In accepting Lestrange the town perhaps hoped for some reward: he himself seems not to have been forewarned, since Lynn offered him ‘the other burgess if he will receive it’.

Of the 19 Members sitting in this period eight were townsmen prominent in municipal affairs: Amyas, Gibbon and Soome were returned once only, but Bewcher, Overend and Wythe sat twice, Miller four times and Waters eight. Several others were lawyers: Coningsby, Thomas Gawdy, Gilberd and Yelverton were recorders at the time of their return, as was Walpole when he was re-elected. Before his appointment as recorder Walpole had been retained as counsel by the town; Edmund Grey was one of a number similarly retained; and Francis Monford of Feltwell in Norfolk was connected with the influential Thoresby family there. Sir Nicholas Lestrange lived nearby at Hunstanton. Only Sir Richard Corbet, Moyle and Southwell were strangers to the borough. Corbet’s election early in 1553 may reflect the influence of the Duke of Northumberland or of the sheriff Sir Thomas Cornwallis.

Lynn took a keen interest in parliamentary affairs. The Members usually made a report on their homecoming and sometimes sent information to the mayor while Parliament was in progress. In conjunction with other Norfolk towns Lynn obtained Acts in 1523, 1529, 1534 and 1536 regulating worsted production; in 1534 it also secured an Act (26 Hen. VIII, c.4) for the repair of property damaged by flooding, and in 1547 an Act (33 Hen. VIII, c.34) cancelling a recent grant by the King of two fairs there. In 1547 Gawdy and Overend both obstructed the chantries bill and also introduced a measure for the corporation to acquire the ex-chantry property there; this was dropped on the receipt of an undertaking that the property would be granted to the town, as was later done.19

A town ordinance of 1442 had laid down that Members should not receive wages of more than 2s. a day, but by the middle of Elizabeth’s reign this had risen to 3s.4d. Few details of wages are recorded for Lynn during the early 16th century, and where they do appear they are coupled with other expenses incurred at Westminster, so that it is impossible to say when or by what stages the increase took place. Payments were raised by a special tax on each ward, often collected at the same time as the fifteenths and tenths for the borough. In 1515 four men were examined about ‘the riot that they and others made against the constables and common serjeant in gathering of the burgesses of Parliament’s costs for the last Parliament according to the King’s writ’.

Author: N. M. Fuidge


  • 1. Lynn congregation bk. 4, f. 98.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. Ibid. f. 115v.
  • 4. Ibid.
  • 5. Ibid. f. 151.
  • 6. Ibid.
  • 7. Ibid. f. 239.
  • 8. Ibid.
  • 9. Ibid. f. 301.
  • 10. Ibid. f. 302v.
  • 11. Ibid.
  • 12. Ibid. f. 320.
  • 13. Ibid.
  • 14. Only Gawdy's surname and style remain on the indenture (C219/19/65); his christian name is known from Hatfield 207.
  • 15. Lynn congregation bk. 5, f. 104v; Hatfield 207.
  • 16. Lynn congregation bk. 5, f. 192v; Bodl. e Museo 17.
  • 17. LP Hen. VIII, iv, x, xii; Lynn congregation bks. 2-6 passim; Six Town Chrons. ed. Flenley, 84-95, 193, 194.
  • 18. C219/18B/56, 18C/77, 19/65, 20/83, 21/107, 22/51, 23/91, 24/112, 25/77.
  • 19. CJ, i. 2, 3, 45; APC, ii. 193-5; CPR, 1548-9, p. 11.